Improving Workplace Mental Health

Occupational safety professionals are responsible for ensuring employees' physical AND mental well-being. They help with workplace design, emergency planning, training, and assist employers with creating holistic wellness and assistance programs for their employees. An Employee Wellness Program focuses on the physical well-being of employees, and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) supports an employee's mental health. Although wellness programs have gained recent popularity due to positive results, EAPs are often overlooked.

Occupational experts appreciate that an employee's mental health is vital to their daily work and comparable to the importance of their physical wellness. Most large companies provide an EAP, yet most workers are unaware they exist or what services they provide. While the EAPs are beneficial and work successfully, data shows they haven't been effectively promoted for employee use or made readily accessible. Recent trends suggest that, similar to wellness programs, companies are focusing on EAP utilization and assuring they are easily accessible to employees.

EAP History

Around the 1940's, occupational alcohol programs were created to resolve the overuse and negative impact of alcohol on the workplace. Success of these programs revealed alcohol wasn't the only external factor affecting occupational performance. The alcohol could even be a symptom or self-medication for other serious mental ailments. These revelations led to the transformation of occupational alcohol programs into employee assistance programs during the 1950's. Since then, public and private entities have adopted EAPs to assist workers with issues associated with mental turmoil.

2016 Employee Mental Health Standings

Recent survey statistics supplied by the American Psychological Association confirm EAPs generally low utilization and employees' dissatisfaction with their employer. In 2013, 44% of employees felt their employers provided well-being assistance. In 2016, it dropped to 41%. Statistics generally waiver depending on the survey group, but the consensus remains clear – employers need to promote their EAPs and increase employee awareness.

It's important to note that increased employee awareness may not lead to an immediate uptick of utilization. Occupational safety professionals are working with company programs so they aren't seen as a taboo. One of the reasons EAPs aren't fully utilized is due to employee mindset. They don't want to be seen as mentally ill by coworkers when, in reality, all employees should utilize EAPs to help with common life struggles.

What EAPs Offer

EAPs acknowledge an employee's mental health needs to be addressed whether it is work-related or not. Along with physical factors like diet that permeate the line between personal and work life, mental instability caused by personal factors affect occupational performance. To truly assist employees, company EAPs offer comprehensive mental support and referrals.

Programs are designed to offer an array of services, assessments, and resources that take advantage of recent technological communication advancements. Professionals and tangible assistance is always present, but virtual help by phone and email are prevalent options as well. The following are included in a typical EAP:

  • Assistance with substance abuse and mental illness
  • Addressing relationship, financial, and legal concerns
  • Family, parenting, and elderly care resources and information
  • Conflict resolution services
  • Training and education about wellness programs and disaster planning
  • Grief Counseling

EAP staff usually includes social workers, psychologists, nurses, and counselors. If they cannot assist an employee's issues, they will refer them to additional help outside of the EAP. The goal is to gently assist employees and emphasize their availability to apprehensive employees. Some programs even help management plan for disruptive situations such as company changes and emergency planning. EAPs are for employees in any position, and successfully resolving their mental stresses results in occupational benefits.

Employer Benefits

EAP goals focus on assisting and improving employee mental health, but the purpose is to increase company approval, efficiency, retention, and performance. When employees are happy and feel recognized in their position, productivity increases. Employees want to be involved and feel necessary or they lose drive to perform. EAPs help employees find mental wellness and in return they will work diligently and be absent less. Absenteeism is an indicator of worker happiness, and assistance programs can increase participation.

Additionally, they want to remain with the company that has instilled trust and effort in them. Employee turnover is costly to companies, so investing in current employee mental wellness maintains their loyalty. EAP success can also be seen in work-related injury or accident diminishment. Employees that are mentally healthy and actively engaged are more situationally aware, decreasing common occupational accidents.

Occupational safety professionals cooperate with other professionals such as doctors and business management to design more effective and accessible EAPs. Because poor mental health can remain hidden, it can be overlooked and go untreated. Anyone that suffers from mental stress and turmoil caused by occupational and personal issues eventually exhibit physical symptoms or lash out. The ultimate mission is to offer helpful, positive treatment before mental health reaches critical points. To accomplish this mission, EAPs frequently adapt as research reveals new cognitive discoveries.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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